For those of you with a military background, or even just in my age group, you likely have heard a story (or three) that started off like this … often what came next was something like “flat on my back at 30,000 feet, diving out of the sun to take on the whole Japanese Imperial Air Force … (you pretty much know what comes next.)
Sometimes these stories are true, sometimes there is a grain or two of truth, and sometimes they fall strictly under the category of plain old “Tall Tales”.
I haven’t heard too many stories like this from my Filipino friends and relatives … possibly because I haven’t been drunk with many of them ;-), but I am sure they are out there.
Yesterday I helped one of my relatives come up with her own “There I was Story”, if she choses to remember it. I think it’s a good thing to relate this tale, because it will help some of you understand that there is a lot more to the “Culture Clash” or “Culture Gulf” between our typical Westerner way of thinking and the mindset of the Philippines than sensational things like eating embryo duck eggs.
Some names here have been changed to protect the guilty 😉
About 9 am yesterday, a close relative came to the door and asked if I could help her print out her eTicket confirmation page for a flight she was taking at 2 pm today … going to visit her family in the southern Philippines.
Sure, says I, and thinking to use this as a good learning experience for Linda, who is staying with us while she studies at a college in Manila, I called Linda over and assigned her the job of helping get the email open and get it printed out.
Well about 20 minutes came by and Linda came looking for me and said, “Tito David, we need help, I can’t find the way to print the document from the website.”
When I walked over to the computer I noticed they had Philippine Airline’s website opened and a little alarm bell started jangling … just faintly … in the back of my head. Whenever I have bought eTickets, either here or in the US, the airline always emailed the confirmation data to me … it’s typically not on the web site where anyone could pass out their password (or have it stolen) and then just print copy after copy as an original. So I started asking around.
The person needing the ticket (let’s call her Jane), didn’t really have an eTicket. Jane’s daughter, in a city far to the south, had bought a conventional, paper ticket for Jane some days ago, and it was sitting there, about a thousand miles away from where it needed to be. It needed to be in Jane’s hand, so that she could even enter the airport terminal the next day, let alone board the plane for her trip. But long time readers have heard me mention this ‘after the fact” sort of planning before.
If you have a week to get something done, don’t do it, or ask for help to do it, when there is still plenty time. It’s much more fun to wait until there is no time left, and preferably let someone else be the one to find out that the wheel has come off the wagon. *sigh*
Being on my best behavior (a rare event for me), I resisted the urge to ask, “What the holy fire truck is the ticket doing there, when you are here … she could have sent it to you days ago via LBC?”
(one of several excellent (and cheap) overnight express services here in the Philippines.)
I did explain, though, that I wasn’t enough of a miracle worker to hack into the airline’s internal computer system, nor did I have one of those special printers that punches out ‘real’ airline tickets. So since David couldn’t make “the Internet” produce a ticket, what could we do?
Having had tickets changed during trips in the past (military necessity), and having helped people who had lost tickets before, I knew there was a way to get the original tickets in the wrong location cancelled and new duplicates printed …but only the airline could do this.
I searched the FAQS (Frequently Asked Questions) on the airline site and sure enough, there was a question/answer pair on that subject, and the answer said “Just call our customer service help line”.
I pointed this out to “Jane”, who gave the inevitable answer “No Load.”
Expecting nothing less, I handed her my phone.
Ever heard the expression “Deer in the headlights” look? That would be Jane. Remember, I’m not talking some sort of complex transaction with a far away American company here, and I certainly wasn’t suggesting that she had to use English, or do any complex negotiations … just find out how she could go about getting the ticket re-issued.
I really felt bad that I hadn’t thought this through further. Causing fear to well up in someone in that way is just as much subjecting them to abuse as if you hit them with a whip … and I really hate to hurt people.
Just because you are asking them to do something that is second nature to you does not mean they are comfortable with it at all.
So I made up an excuse that let Jane off the hook, I told her Linda would take care of it for her and she, Jane, could go home and wait for the outcome.
Talk about leaving in a hurry! Jane disappeared faster than one of those time warp sequences in a science fiction movie.
It was now time to turn my attention to Ms. Linda, our resident student expert.
“Linda, just call the number, explain that Jane has a confirmation code that shows the tickets were bought but that the tickets are too far away to get them sent here, and ask what are Jane’s options for getting replacement tickets before her flight.”
OK, of course you know the first answer. “No load.”
Now this girl has a cell phone that cost half as much as my computer. It has more tricks, features and gimmicks, gadgets and modes on it than I can even keep track of.
I wouldn’t even want to carry a phone of that value and complexity … but no matter what cell phone I carried, I am so old and out of touch that I (mistakenly, I guess) still labor under the apprehension that under all the glitz and window dressing, the primary reason you might bother to carry a cell phone is to make a phone call with it.
It ain’t that way here. You’d be surprised how many people carry a cell phone with them 18 hours a day and sleep with it under their pillow the other 6 hours, but could not make a phone call if their house was on fire. Seriously, it’s exactly like buying a new car and never putting gas in it. Beats me.
(see what I mean about culture shock being more than strange foods)
“OK, Linda, here’s my phone, call them on that.”
Deer in the headlights times two. “Oh I can’t call Philippine Airlines.”
“And why, pray tell, can you not?”
I punched the numbers into the phone, pressed ‘send’ and handed it to her. I told her to feel free to speak in Tagalog, or pretend to be Manny Paquiao’s appointment’s secretary, or anything else that made her happy, but to fix the freaking problem.
“Linda, you are calling on behalf of a customer. You have every right to call. Not only that, they ask you to call for answers, right here on their website.”
I walked away and guess what? In just a couple minutes, here came Linda, a huge smile on her face and relief almost dripping of her as if it were beads of perspiration.
“No problem, Tito, there is an express lane at PAL’s main terminal, just for that situation.
All she has to do is tell the guard where she is going, fall in line and they will verify and re-print the ticket.”
I really think that day, and that conversation will live in that girl’s mind forever. She fixed the problem! And apparently slew one of her first dragons. Took the bull by the horns and acted like a customer with a problem asking for help from the people getting paid to fix problems.
“Wasn’t that easy?”
“Was the customer service person rude or impatient with you?”
“No Tito, he was very polite and helpful.”
“Do you realize now that customer service operations are set up to help the customer?”
More blank looks there. Better not push this line of conversation too far…
“Linda” explained to “Jane” what had to be done and went on through the rest of her day, perhaps feeling a little more confidence in her heart that she is every bit as worthy as the next person, even if she is a “small person” and the other work for government or big corporations.
Jane went off on her trip this morning, bubbling over with thanks for solving her insoluble problem.
And me? I added yet another lesson to my file of the “Little Things that make a Big Difference” here in the Philippines.
In the US, a “There I was story” might be about combat, or facing a major league pitcher in a batter’s cage, or going 200 miles per hour on the drag strip.
Here, a “There I was story” might involve a mean old uncle forcing you to call customer service.
That doesn’t make the feelings any less strong, just because the life and death potential may be a little different. And it doesn’t make a successful outcome and less appealing.
You aren’t in Kansas any more, friends.